I took a course in college called “Mass Media and Communications”. I can’t remember the reason. But what I will never forget is one of the lessons. This was back in the early 2000s, so HDTV (1080p etc) wasn’t prevalent yet. The professor taught us how a television worked. I had no idea before then. He explained that a device inside the box quickly draws a very thin line–two hundred forty evenly spaced lines actually–across the screen. Then on its return trip, this device fills in the blanks just left with another set of lines. That’s where 480i (NTSC) comes from. Old televisions in America had 480 “interlaced” lines. Now we all watch in some level of progressively scanning lines, meaning the picture is fully refreshed each trip across the screen and the image is high definition. Now you know.
What all this techno-mumbo-jumbo means to us mortals is that the images on the television screen are an illusion. They’re not really there. Different than a painting, sculpture, or the words and images in a tangible book/magazine/newspaper, which we can really see and feel and touch, the images on the television screen are an optical illusion. Our brain is able to put together all these rapidly moving lines and we think we see a man or woman or if you’re four and a half years old, it seems that all you see is an Octonaut.
But the truth is there is nothing there. There is only an illusion. Mr. Williams is not in our living room. Only a powerful illusion that our brain wants to believe is a trustworthy man named Brian Williams is there. But even that is not true. This illusion isn’t on or in the television, the illusion is in our minds.
The question then becomes, “Can an illusion lie?” I say no. I say there is no non-fiction television to begin with. How could there be?
If there is anything to be learned from current events, it is that we’ve allowed ourselves, yet again, to be fooled. The new question, the only question I see remaining at the end of this is, “How many more times will we let it happen before we turn off the TV?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about you recently. While I’d love to report that my memory of you grows fonder as the years pass, quite the opposite is true. To begin, I want you to know I feel like you took something from me. I think you took something I didn’t even know I had it until it went missing. I’m talking about care. And concern. Care and concern for things. Take work for example. How am I supposed to believe anything that is not life and death is worth spending energy on? Of course I’m capable, and of course I’m qualified. But the drive to ‘fight the good fight’, when it isn’t a fight, is gone. I think you took it.
I also feel like I’m not sure how people expect to be treated. While we were together, everyone was equal. It was beautiful. During missions the mission was all that mattered. Everyone checked their feelings at the door. Now, people’s feelings are the mission. Every experience since being with you has included not only completing the mission, but making the person feel like the mission was completed. Instead of results, people want to purchase experiences. I just don’t understand it. I know you don’t either.
Lastly, for now, because of what you taught me about what’s important and what’s not important when lives are on the line, taken together with the depth of the learning experience, I can’t shake the appearance of having a large ego. It’s like I’m expected to just forget all the lessons you taught simply because not very many people ever learn them. The trouble is, as you know, I couldn’t forget your instruction even if I wanted to. With you, there wasn’t endless debating. There was action. There was doing. Indecision was an enemy. Now, decisiveness is a detractor. It doesn’t make sense.
You know I love you, right? Don’t you? At the same time, I just can’t help wanting to blame you either.
In the end, I guess I really just wanted to say “Thanks” and “No Thanks”.
PS – This is just a little thing, and I don’t know if it’s you or just flying that is responsible, but I’m not loving how I can’t pass up a bathroom without feeling like “Might as well. Who knows when the next time I’ll have a chance to go will be.”
A difficult, challenging, and generally confusing collection of 3,000+ words–that is “Eight Acres.” The title and opening line prove to mislead the reader. Surprised by our being caught off-guard, we read on. The quick-to-read staccato dialogue encourages giving the story the benefit of the doubt, and before too long, we reach a full paragraph which acts as a barely legible legend to the story’s map and provides the basest of hopes that our travels will end safely. As we hit the first set of asterisks, we’re certain about only two things. It is war. The characters are pilots. We also are given a big clue that this Mugwump is attempting a post-modern writing style. This means that as we enter a WWII veteran named Jerry’s basement, we don’t get stuck on the question “Why?”, we simply read on.
The writing is decent enough that our curiosity begs us to give the story a chance. Continuing on, as the story jumps around, we quickly warm to the idea that, like building a jigsaw puzzle, we won’t see the picture until the end–at least that’s our hope.
As “Eight Acres” settles in, a distinct, though unconventional, picture begins to emerge. The picture gains even more clarity with the use of sparsely placed details which arrive just in time to prevent our motivation from completely diminishing.
In the end, “Eight Acres” is not light reading. It cannot be read quickly, and it does not hold the reader’s hand. But there is definitely a theme, and it is definitely one a child won’t understand. The question is will an adult?
The special operations warriors segregated themselves from the rest of the soldiers in the DFAC. “Deefak” is how everyone referred to the dining facility–the chow hall. After only a matter of days in-country, it became apparent to all how to distinguish those who worked inside “the fence” from those who worked outside “the fence”. These men worked outside the fence. They weren’t necessarily more dedicated, or smarter, but they had always wanted to do what they were doing and happened to be good at it. And they were dedicated. And they were smart.
On the ceiling of the DFAC hung flags. There were flags of the different nations of the world that were in the coalition of forces, and flags of the 50 states.
Suddenly, after a break in the conversation, one of the men spoke up.
“Hatu. Huh, where’s that country? It sounds familiar, but I can’t seem to place it. South America? Africa?” he asked.
“Definitely Africa,” chimed in one of the men more respected for his book knowledge.
“I don’t know,” said another.
“It doesn’t have an African ring to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in South America,” challenged a third.
Without the internet at their fingertips, the hard men were left with all the nuances of communication to determine who to believe–conviction in the voice, the tone of voice, facial expressions, and look of the eyes. Lastly, all waited to see if somebody would wager that they were correct. No one was so bold.
At last, all eyes found themselves gazing at the flag, trying to look for clues. The stocky mustached reader finally broke the silence.
“Hatu. Ha. Morons. It’s not Hatu, it’s Utah. You just read it from the back side of the flag.”
In all caps, it was an easy mistake we suppose, but one that silenced this proud group of men for some time.
Monochromatic green. That’s the color of Iraq. All the cities we ever flew around appeared as varying shades of green. Despite several flights per week around the country, I can’t even say that I ever actually saw Iraq with my own two eyes. Instead, it seemed like I was in a helicopter watching a movie about flying around Iraq.
Viewed through night vision goggles, all light appears white; to include shooting stars. There we so many shooting stars. Here’s a tip for any aspiring military pilots: When executing combat missions under the cover of darkness, don’t talk about how many shooting stars you see. Other crew members simply won’t appreciate the beauty inherent to these singular events. Apparently, looking in the direction of possible threats has more value.
Why was I noticing shooting stars? Because they’re attention-getting. They are a bright light, the essence of ‘visibility’ itself, streaking across an otherwise dark sky. My crew’s point was well taken though; “Pay attention to what needs attention.”
Outside the cockpit, distractions abound. When flying, when living one of these ‘mini-lifetimes’, it is easy to categorize things as distractions. During a flight the timeline is set; the end is literally hours away. Think about what a distraction even is. Fundamentally it begs for something to be distracted from. There must be a goal, a reason. When flying, the mission, the intent, the goal; all these are clear. Mankind doesn’t take to flight on a whim. Or maybe it is a whim, but even flying for enjoyment is still a goal whose attainment distractions can prevent. Crashing and dying is not enjoyable.
Regular grounded life, on the other hand, does not have a set timeline. The end is nowhere in sight. But, just like flying, life has responsibilities that must receive attention. Does life have events like shooting stars that are distracting? Certainly. Should life’s shooting stars be viewed at the risk of failing to attend to the bigger responsibilities? No. Like I had to learn to stop noticing the seemingly unavoidable shooting star, all of us could stand to stop giving attention to life’s many distractions.
Attention is a function of time. It is a scarce resource. Pilots learn this the hard way. We call it channelized attention. Channelized attention is when we focus too much attention on something insignificant, such as a burnt out light bulb, instead of the significant gauge that tells us we’re descending into terrain. Channelized attention’s effect on grounded people may take longer, but let’s not kid ourselves about its strength.
Each of us must decide how long we will focus on life’s burnt out light bulbs while the aircraft is descending. The difficulty is, unlike large flying organizations which have an overall mission from which they delegate to pilots smaller missions, life does not have a universal mission. Each one of us must decide our purpose. Only you will ever know yours. But you do know. You’ve always known. It’s time then. Pay attention. I can’t afford for you not to.